Practise

Years ago I saw my teacher concentrate energy in his hand. He was demonstrating how to move Qi to the fist. His fist looked dense, energized while the rest of his body was relaxed. It was impressive to see, it was like his fist was humming. I tried it and my whole body went tense as I tried to mimic what he had done. I tried for the whole session and became increasingly agitated as I couldn’t get it. I asked him how to get it, he said ‘practise’.

My teacher said ‘practise’, so i did it for 2 weeks and made no progress! A year later I was doing a practice in relaxation and yielding in the hand. Instinctively I made a fist and managed to do something similar to my teacher. I kept on and over time I was able to do the same as he did.

‘Practice’ is a noun, ‘practise’ is a verb. ‘Practise’ describes the process of doing something again and again to get better at it. ‘Practise’ is the action of doing something again and again to get better. I promise you, practise and you will be surprised how far you can go.

It is O.K. to fail, just get up and practise again. Let the teacher show you and inspire you, but then do it yourself, repeatedly. Make it your own. Find your own mental and physical pathways to the skills you are taught, then practise. You can do it, you are able.

Practise! Good luck to you!

10 YANG STYLE (TAI CHI) SKILLS

LET THE HEAD FEEL LIGHT AND SENSITIVE: Like a thread holding it up, or a top knot of hair tied to the rafters and your body weight loosely hanging from it. Also, as if someone is supporting you under the occiput and jaw.

SINK THE FRONT AND RAISE THE BACK: Melt and soften the chest, feel like your spine and back are ‘charged’. Let the front of the torso sink to the belly and the hips (kwa), whilst lifting and focusing on the back

FEEL FULLNESS AND EMPTINESS OF THE LEGS: Relax the muscles of the belly, hips and thighs. As you shift your weight, you will feel the leg with the weight on it is fuller, heavier than the leg without the weight. Focus on the different feeling of the legs, know which leg your weight is on – this is the full leg. Keep the knees aligned with the feet, weight spread evenly through the feet and sit in the kwa. Pause before stepping

.SEEK STILLNESS IN MOVEMENT: Pause before stepping, only move the empty leg when you are fully rested on the full leg. This pause should be encouraged. Giving yourself the time to pause before stepping is good for you. You can also feel the stillness of the central pole of balance by being aware of the twisting of the body. Focus on the Dan Tien, around 3-4 finger widths below the navel, just inside the belly.Do dissolving / softeningLink the breath with the movement.

UNITE ABOVE AND BELOW: Find your alignments (wrist to the ankles, elbows to the knees and shoulders to hips, also, elbow to the hip and hip to the feet) like a string connecting them, or a thread going through the body, or simply a direct link. The energy is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, directed by the waist and manifested in the hands.

MOVE CONTINUOUSLY, MOVE WITHOUT BREAKS: Look for circles, move like water or through water, ‘chan ssu ching’ – silk reeling cocoon – spirals.

RELAX THE SHOULDERS AND SINK THE ELBOWS: Just keep your attention on it, keep going back to it and you will retrain your body.

RELAX THE WAIST: drop the hips to open the waist. Then the hips (kwa) can lead and the waist can turn freely.

USE MIND NOT STRENGTH: Soften the muscles and use mind-will to move. Through knowledge of the applications, consciously direct your body whilst looking for softness and clear direction of intent.

UNITE THE INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL: Be aware when you practice. It is the ‘Shen’ the amalgam of thoughts, spirit and consciousness that move you. Unite internal and external means unite Spirit and body. This is done by having a spacious awareness of your body, mind and environment.

Relax

The Chinese word for relax is ‘Song’. It can be translated as relax, but also, soften, loosen, to let go. If you watch a teacher in China demonstrate ‘Song’, you can see them actively checking their body and softening the musles, letting go. They then take that state into their Tai Chi practice.

One way to relax is to do the Qi gong practice of dissolving. This is where you focus on the outer border of an area of tension and feel as if it can melt like wax becoming warm, melting and dropping down. You can also visualise ice melting to become water or even steam and come straight out of the body. This is best developed in a natural standing posture. This melting practice can be done for anything from 2 – 10 minutes to start with.

By far the biggest trick to relaxing is to keep your mind on it. Just a gentle, casual awareness of the process of relaxing / softening. In the little pauses in life, check and relax, soften, let go. The magic of relaxing is in returning your attention to it. If you keep glancing back at yourself through the day, seeing what you can soften, you will change your awareness to one of watchful, kind attention. This will change your state and eventually effect those around you.

Water

To move like water is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself when doing Tai Chi. To be still like a deep fjord, or constantly moving and untamed like a stormy sea is a wonderful feeling. Water can be fluid, ice or steam. It can change. It can change whilst keeping it’s nature. That is what you can do. You can change, flow and adapt. In Tai Chi you can be contracting then expanding, slow then fast.Don’t get fixed on one way of doing Tai Chi, be open.

There are so many opportunities to be free from tension and pain if we allow ourselves to change like water. Tai Chi is the physical embodiment of change if we let it be. If you are lucky enough to live near the sea, mimic its nature. Stand where you can see the water and be with it, letting it guide your movements. It is liberating and unifies you with nature. You can focus on a pond or a lake, then the clouds – that’s a lovely one to do. It is good to go back to the same spot on different days and witness the changing states of the environment.

We get fixed, we get so fixed all the time, we get buried in ourselves. When we are guided by water in its different states, we release ourselves from that fixed state. Then we are free to merge with nature whilst remaining embodied and present.

The Legend of Tai Chi

Chang San Feng was a Taoist sage who lived in the 13th century. Around this time, the Shaolin monks had developed strong practices to maintain good health and defense. One day he witnessed a bird and a snake embroiled in combat. The bird was direct and attacking with its firm beak. The Snake was soft and yielding, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Neither creature won the battle as each was evenly matched in its abilities.

From observing the nature of this conflict, Chang San Feng realized that it is not always the strong that win. Sometimes softness can win. So the idea of Tai Chi was born. When using Tai Chi as a martial art, it is good to have both attacking and defensive abilities: Yang and Yin.

In any event in life, especially a potential conflict, it may appropriate to be assertive, forward, creative; or following, listening, yielding may generate a better outcome. Our ability to have a Yang and Yin response to events is our ability to be open minded, flexible and free.

In Tai Chi we can practice changing from a Yin to a Yang state. So we could start moving slowly (yin) then speed up (yang), Think towards the Tan Tien (yin) or focus on clear, spacious awareness of the area around us (yang). There are many skills to learn and each can be regarded as more Yin or Yang in nature. Identifying which is Yin or Yang is always relative.

Eventually we can combine one Yin and one Yang skill at the same time. Sinking the front of the body (yin) while raising the back (yang) is a classic. We can focus more on one skill and glance at the other, this helps stay focused. So focus on sinking the front while having a regard for its opposite of raising the back. This is a very good method as it develops a deep harmony of energies in the body and mind.